Caspian gull

The Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans) is a large gull and a member of the herring and lesser black-backed gull complex. The scientific name is from Latin. Larus appears to have referred to a gull or other large seabird, and cachinnans means 'laughing', from cachinnare 'to laugh'.[2]

Caspian gull
Caspian gull (Larus cachinnans) summer Danube delta.jpg
Adult in summer plumage, Romania
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Laridae
Genus: Larus
L. cachinnans
Binomial name
Larus cachinnans
Pallas, 1811
Range of L. cachinnans


It is a large gull at 56–68 cm (22–27 in) long, with a 137 to 155 cm (54 to 61 in) wingspan and a body mass of 680–1,590 g (1.50–3.51 lb).[3][4] Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 38.5 to 48 cm (15.2 to 18.9 in), the bill is 4.6 to 6.4 cm (1.8 to 2.5 in) and the tarsus is 5.8 to 7.7 cm (2.3 to 3.0 in).[4] The Caspian gull has a long, slender bill, accentuated by the sloping forehead. The legs, wings, and neck are longer than those of the herring gull and yellow-legged gull. The eye is small and often dark, and the legs vary from pale pink to a pale yellowish colour. The back and wings are a slightly darker shade of grey than the herring gull, but slightly paler than the yellow-legged gull. The outermost primary feather has a large white tip and a white tongue running up the inner web.

First-winter birds have a pale head with dark streaking on the back of the neck. The underparts are pale and the back is greyish. The greater and median wing coverts have whitish tips forming two pale lines across the wing.


The Caspian gull breeds around the Black and Caspian Seas, extending eastwards across Central Asia to north-west China. In Europe, it has been spreading north and west and now breeds in Poland and eastern Germany. Some birds migrate south as far as the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, while others disperse into Western Europe, in countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark or the Benelux and even North of France. Small numbers are now seen regularly in Britain, especially in South-east England, East Anglia, and the Midlands.


Eggs, collection Museum Wiesbaden

It typically nests on flat, low-lying ground by water, unlike the yellow-legged gull, which mainly nests on cliffs in areas where the two overlap. The breeding season starts from early April. Two or three eggs are laid and incubated for 27 to 31 days.


They are scavengers and predators with a very varied diet. During the breeding season, they often eat rodents such as ground squirrels, flying some distance into the steppes to find them.

Classification and subspeciesEdit

This form has a troubled taxonomic history, summarised in the herring gull article. The Caspian gull used to be treated as a subspecies of the herring gull, but it is now treated as a full species by many authorities (e.g. the British Ornithologists' Union records committee). Some authorities include the yellow-legged gull (L. michahellis) within L. cachinnans, but it is also now commonly considered to be a separate species.

The steppe gull or Baraba gull (L. (cachinnans) barabensis) may be regarded as a subspecies of the Caspian gull or as a separate species. It is also very similar genetically to its northern neighbour, the taimyrensis race of Heuglin's gull. The steppe gull breeds in Central Asia, particularly northern Kazakhstan. Its nonbreeding range is still little-known, but most are thought to winter in southwestern Asia from the Persian Gulf to northwestern India. There are possible records of this form from Hong Kong and South Korea.

The Mongolian gull (L. (vegae/cachinnans) mongolicus) may be classed as a subspecies of the Caspian gull, a subspecies of the Vega gull, or as a species in its own right. It breeds in Mongolia and the surrounding areas and migrates southeast in winter.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Larus cachinnans". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22735929A132665415. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22735929A132665415.en. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 82, 219. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  3. ^ Dunning, John B. Jr., ed. (1992). CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  4. ^ a b Olsen, Klaus Malling; Larsson, Hans (2004). Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691119977.

Further readingEdit


  • Garner, Martin; Quinn, David (1997). "Identification of Yellow-legged Gulls in Britain" (PDF). British Birds. 90: 25–62, 369–384.
  • Bakker, Theo; Offereins, Rudy; Winters, Rik (2000). "Caspian Gull identification gallery". Birding World. 13 (2): 60–74. (identification article including 34 images of Caspian Gulls of various ages)
  • Jonsson, Lars (1998). "Yellow-legged gulls and yellow legged herring gulls in the Baltic". Alula. 4 (3/1998): 74–100.
  • Neubauer, Gregory; Millington, Richard (2000). "Caspian Gull identification revisited". Birding World. 13 (11): 462–465. (addresses identification in juvenile plumage)
  • Small, Brian (2001). "The juvenile Caspian Gull in Suffolk". Birding World. 14 (9): 385–387.
  • Gibbins, Chris; Small, Brian J.; Sweeney, John (2010). "From the Rarities Committee's files: Identification of Caspian Gull, part 1: typical birds". British Birds. 103 (3): 142–183. (detailed identification paper, covering typical individuals)

External linksEdit